COSAM News Articles 2022 January COSAM Student Spotlight: Natalie Williams

COSAM Student Spotlight: Natalie Williams

Published: 01/11/2022

By: Leslie Leak

Natalie Williams

A native of Huntsville, AL, Williams’ interest in science, along with her ties to Auburn University, were evident at a young age. Her father, Tom, is an engineer and graduate of Auburn, so she grew up in an environment conducive to scientific interests. She even vividly recalls details of a trip to Cape Canaveral, FL, sitting atop her father’s shoulders while watching a shuttle launch. “I still can visualize the large clock that counted down the launch, and as a child, I wanted to work in Mission Control,” Williams said. 

The combination of growing up in an Auburn family and her brother Robert's experience in COSAM led Williams to choose Auburn for her undergraduate studies. As a suggestion from Robert, Williams, still a high school senior, reached out to AU Biological Sciences Professor Dr. Mark Liles to learn more about COSAM's Microbiology program. Williams joined the Liles lab during her freshman year at AU and discovered new opportunities in science that were 'out of this world'!

In the Liles lab, Williams and a team of undergraduate and PhD students actively collaborate with scientists from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and the Jet Propulsion Lab to provide NASA with data that will aid in determining a 'go or no go' launch decision for the Europa Lander Mission. 

Students explore aquaculture, soil microbiology, novel antibiotic discovery, astrobiology, and metagenomics in the Liles lab. According to Williams, "It is a great opportunity for collaboration among peers and provides exposure to many different program areas!" 

Research Focus: 

Prevention of terrestrial microbial contamination from Earth to Europa during NASA’s Europa Lander Mission, using rocket motor adhesives that are found to kill spore-forming bacteria. 

COSAM Accomplishments & Awards: 

• NASA Marshall Space Flight Center Internship in Propulsion Department 

• MicroSURP Internship at The University of Texas Health Science Center 

• Awarded NASA-ROSES Grant 

• 1st Place Poster Award in STEM category at AU Virtual Research Symposium 

• Dean’s Research Award Recipient 

COSAM Involvement: 

• Microbiology Club 

• Undergraduate Research Ambassador 

Advice for Students: 

"Dr. Mark Liles has taught me that many of our best choices and opportunities in life are the ones we may stumble upon. Take time to discern decisions, but don't discount an opportunity just because you didn't necessarily seek it out yourself. Don't be afraid to step out of your comfort zone - that opportunity may change your life." 

"We tend to move toward things that are somewhat familiar to us, but try to remain open to exploring other areas of interest that may be unfamiliar to you at first. COSAM has many opportunities worth seeking out, and it's never too late to change direction if you stumble upon a new path that interests you." 

Favorite COSAM Memories: 

"Some of my greatest memories of COSAM are from Microbiology Club Field Trips. We had the opportunity to play with baby goats, travel to a winery, and even stay overnight at the Tennessee Aquarium underneath the shark tank!" 

Beyond Auburn: 

Williams plans to apply for medical school and is open to a wide range of careers in the medical field. 

Questions for Natalie? Email her at 

 Natalie Williams - COSAM Journey 

Click on the timeline to view a larger image.


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